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Two New Hampshire Bills Signed By Governor Roll Back Some Privacy Protections

New Hampshire

CONCORD, N.H. (June 10, 2016) – New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan recently signed two bills into law that roll back what were some exceptionally strong privacy protections in the state.

The two new laws expand allowable uses for automatic license plate readers (ALPRS) and begin implementation of what will essentially become a national ID system.

Rep. Ken Peterson (R) introduced House Bill 1154 (HB1154) earlier this year. The new statute allows law enforcement agencies to use automatic license plate readers for specific law enforcement functions. Under the old law, considered the most stringent in the nation, the ALPRs were prohibited except for use along toll roads as outlined in a statute prohibiting surveillance along New Hampshire highways. That statute will remain in effect, but the new law expands the permissible use for ALPRs.

The governor also recently signed House Bill 1616 (HB1616) into law. This will begin implementation of REAL ID in the state. President G.W. Bush signed REAL ID into law in 2005. It essentially coopts the states into creating a national ID system. States have resisted implementation of the controversial measure for more than a decade due to privacy concerns, cost and constitutional questions. In 2006, New Hampshire was the first state in the country to reject compliance with REAL ID. While HB1616 allows individuals to opt-out of the federally compliant driver’s licenses, it still represents a major reversal in policy.

Passage of these bills should put New Hampshire residents on alert. There appears to be significant erosion of the commitment to protect privacy in the state. Both of these bills take a step backward, although other states appear to be stripping privacy protections at an even faster rate.

The new ALPR law allows law enforcement to use license plate readers to identify stolen vehicles, to locate missing persons, to locate persons with outstanding warrants, to locate trucks in violation of commercial requirements, and to locate vehicles associated with specific criminal investigations. The law stipulates that a positive match alone does not constitution reasonable suspicion to pull a vehicle over.

“The officer shall develop independent reasonable suspicion for the stop or immediately confirm visually that the license plate on the vehicle matches the image of the license plate displayed on the LPR and confirm by other means that the license plate number is on one of the lists specified in paragraph V.”

Significantly, HB1154 still generally prohibits the storage and sharing of ALPR data.

“Records of number plates read by each LPR shall not be recorded or transmitted anywhere and shall be purged from the system within 3 minutes of their capture in such a manner that they are destroyed and are not recoverable, unless an alarm resulted in an arrest, a citation, or protective custody, or identified a vehicle that was the subject of a missing person or wanted broadcast, in which case the data on the particular number plate may be retained until final court disposition of the case.  Captured license plate data obtained for the purposes described in paragraph V shall not be used or shared for any other purpose.”

The legislation also prohibits ALPRs from taking photographs of drivers or passengers inside vehicles.

While HB1154 expands the use of ALPRs in the state, it’s restrictions on data retention and sharing remain among some of the best in the country. It will continue to prevent the state from creating permanent databases using information collected by ALPRs, and it remains highly unlikely that such data will end up in federal databases. Nevertheless, it’s clear New Hampshire residents need to remain vigilant. The state could further roll back these restrictions on ALPR data sharing and retention in the future. Law enforcement will almost certainly push for it.

These two new laws teach a valuable lesson: we cannot count on governments to maintain existing protections. They can easily roll back past accomplishments. Maintaining protection of our rights from government intrusion requires constant vigilance.